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Week 9

Last Week's Question
The question from last week's column came from a reader named Randy, who wanted to know two things about keeper leagues: 1) roster sizes, and 2) the ideal number of players to keep from one season to the next. Before plunging into particular replies to the questions that I ask in my columns, I like to start with my own best estimate of the consensus of those who wrote in.

This week, however, I can offer no such consensus. The replies to Randy's question were so varied that I can only allow them to speak for themselves. I'll feature replies from both numerical extremes and a number of those in the middle, but it appears that readers like Randy will simply have to sift through this information and see what appeals to them.

I will add that some of the formats outlined below were advocated because they make keeper leagues more manageable and/or competitive, while others were suggested as ways of making keeper leagues truer to the spirit of the NFL. What you want to accomplish with your keeper league is of course a matter for you and your league mates to determine. But whether your purpose is to mimic the NFL as thoroughly as possible or simply to complicate things from a strategic standpoint by incorporating a keeper component, you will almost certainly find something useful in the responses below.

I'll start with what Jay's league does because his approach is one that could easily be adopted by many standard redrafter leagues without causing much stress or confusion:

We do not play in a true keeper league, but wanted to reward owners who had the insight (luck?) to draft a break-out star. We carry a 17-man roster and allow each owner to keep one player under 3 conditions: 1) he was selected in the 8th round or later; 2) he remains on a team's roster all year; and 3) he must be QB, RB, WR, or TE - no kickers or defenses. This system has allowed years in which Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, and Chad Pennington were keepers. In Pennington's case, [he was kept this year by the owner who drafted him last year] knowing he had a broken hand but if the team could survive without him, he would be a great keeper this year. It also makes for a lot of projections in the later rounds.
Although the roster size in keeper leagues varies wildly from one league to the next, the most popular number of keepers was either three or "up to three," with variations such as the following, which comes from Charles.
We have a rookie draft about 4 weeks before the regular draft each season, and we've been doing the keeper format for 3 years now. In our league, you can keep up to 3 players, with each counting towards a draft spot. So if an owner decides to keep 3 players from the previous year's team, his first pick from the player pool would be in the 4th round. Anyhow, if an owner keeps his pick from the rookie draft the entire season, he can choose to keep that player next season (which would allow the owner 4 keepers instead of 3) and the rookie keeper counts as the 12th pick in the following year's draft.
Pablo wrote in to advocate the "up to three" keeper formula and to pass along some unapologetically subjective observations about various keeper formats:
In regards to keeper leagues, I am currently in leagues that follow four different formats: 1) a Dynasty league (keep ALL players year-to-year); 2) a 'must keep' 3-player Keeper league; 3) a league in which each owner can keep UP TO 3-players - this makes it very interesting as those who keep less than 3 have first crack at available free agents/rookies until they equalize at the 3-players threshold, then the draft proceeds as usual; and 4) a redraft league. I've been involved in FF for years - including IDP leagues - and have been a commissioner, so I can view this issue from all sides.

My favorite is the Dynasty league format, though as the owner with Smokin' Ricky Williams, Michael Bennett, Stephen Davis/DeShaun Foster, I clearly (and very painfully!) see the drawbacks of this system. Of course injured stud players must be kept for next year, yet that severely hampers my available roster space for waivers this year.

Dynasty makes FF teams similar to the past in "real" sports, where star players routinely stayed with one team for the majority of their careers. My opinion is this makes an owner more comfortable and attached to the team, and such owners are likely to stick with their leagues longer. Weekly waivers & an annual draft with order determined by record/least points scored gives sub-par teams the ability to become competitive rapidly.

My second favorite would be the "up-to" 3-player keeper format. This past year another owner and I kept only 1 player each (Ahman was mine) and I was able to pick up Domanick Davis & Chad Johnson BEFORE other owners drafted. I've gone from a miserable 5-11 team to the playoff hunt, so this in-between version offers the ability to very quickly improve the team while still keeping some favorite players.
While the responses of Jay, Charles and Pablo might be the most generally useful, Jim's is the one that responds most precisely to Randy's original question:
Our league uses a very large roster, and flexible lineups, as a direct result of our 'Keeper' rule. Our owners are allowed to select 4 offensive and 4 IDP keepers on a 22-player roster, to be named 2 weeks prior to the next draft. Why so many, so late? Three main reasons. First, it cuts nearly two hours off of the draft day work (least important, unless you're running the show). Second, we draft in reverse order of the previous season's finish (see NFL draft), and with the late deadline, this arrangement allows us to make trades throughout the off-season. And lastly, flexible lineups (rules allow for a minimum lineup and then 3 offensive players, plus 2 IDP, of owner's choice) keep any one owner from cornering the market on a particular position. It all adds up to parity, and it works! Each of our 12 teams have made the playoffs, at least once, in the last three seasons.
You think a 22-player roster is big? Steve wrote in about a league with rosters almost twice as deep.
I play in an IDP league. We have 14 owners and hold 40-man rosters. When we have our cut downs in July, we keep 25 players on our rosters, with a 15-round draft, based on record (1st round has 8 lottery picks for the bottom teams). Pure and simple, this is closest to what actual NFL teams deal with every year, and we try to keep our league as close as possible to "real play". We do have one major difference; we do not have free agency, except for the period immediately following the draft up to the night before the first game. Once the season starts, the rosters stand, and because we are so large in teams and players used, there is no allowance for free agency.. Trades are allowed until the 10th week, but all teams must have 40 (43) players. Injuries are part of the game, so tough luck if you lose 4 or 5 to the I/R. When I came into the league 8 years ago, the league had just gone from 12 to 14 and I had to draft my team like expansion teams, from other rosters (first 5 picks) and the rest from the draft. This league has been around for 14 years, and while we may lose an owner every now and then, all are hardcore football fans and fantasy players. It makes for the best in fantasy football.
Steve's league may seem a little hard-core to many readers, but he was one of many who wrote in to argue that keeper leagues should come as close as possible to the actual circumstances of the NFL. Mark is another advocate of this mimetic approach:
True keeper leagues need to mirror the NFL itself. Once a player's value becomes too high, teams have to let him go and look to younger talent. We use an auction to select the first 10 players on our rosters. Each owner has $100 to spend on those 10 players. The amount spent on a player in the auction is his value. All players selected after the initial 10 per roster are drafted and valued at $1, which doesn't count toward an owner's $100 auction cap. Pick-ups during the season are also valued at $1. There is no cap during the season itself. The cap is only for drafting purposes. If a player plays in more than half of the NFL team's games that year, his value goes up $4 for next year's auction. If he plays in less than half, his value goes up $2. At the next year's auction, the players values are adjusted prior to the auction and an owner can freeze players on his roster and deduct the new value from the $100 he has to spend. Any players not frozen are available in the auction and their value is based on the new bid. This places a cap on high-priced players like Moss and Holmes, because their value rises from year to year and it is harder to fit them and 9 other players under the $100 cap. Low value finds like Boldin and Droughns can fit under your cap for years to come. This also makes trading more interesting.

Example - You could be out of the playoff hunt and trade say Priest Holmes ($40) to a contender, for Byron Leftwich ($3) and Kevin Jones ($4). Holmes would cost you almost half of your cap money ($44) at next year's auction, while you could:
  1. Easily freeze Leftwich ($7) and Jones ($8)

  2. Have plenty left to freeze other veterans on your roster, Joe Horn ($14) and Clinton Portis($18) and Javon Walker ($12)

  3. Drop overpriced others, Drew Bledsoe ($12) and Steven Davis ($14); and

  4. Still have $41 to bid on 5 other players to fill out your roster.
Keeper leagues that allow owners to keep players indefinitely, can allow teams to become lopsided for years to come. Limiting teams to keep 1 or 2 star players works, but it isn't very fun knowing that you will probably never have a shot at many stars until they are past their prime.
Feeling overwhelmed yet Randy? Well you're the one who had to go and ask the question, so take a deep breath because we have a lot more ground to cover. The following response to Randy's question was unsigned, but offers an elegant and flexible solution to the problem of how to handle keepers:
I am the commish for a league in its 5th season. We expanded from 8 to 10 teams this year. We have a roster of 27 players, which more than helps cover the bye weeks. We have a cap of 10 years of contracts max per year, regardless of the number of players. So you can sign 10 players to 1-year contracts, 1 player to a ten-year contract, or any combination in between. We also do not allow resigning. Once a player's contract is over, he goes back into the draft. It definitely makes team owners think in detail on who to sign and for how long for following seasons.
I like a lot of things about this idea, but I'm left with a few questions. Most importantly, I wonder when it is that I sign players to the contracts. Is it at the moment of acquisition? If I used this method in an ordinary redrafter league, for instance, would the first pick of the draft be something like, "Priest Holmes for three years"? Or would I be able to assemble my whole team first and then figure out how to distribute my ten years of contracts? Could I wait until the end of the season? What is the point of a one-year contract? Isn't it the case that standard redfrafter leagues engage players for a sort of one-year contract? Since all of these questions could easily be ironed out before the draft (or the auction, or whatever), I think this kind of keeper system could be useful for many leagues. But whereas this format allows fantasy owners to decide how many of their team-years they want to dedicate to players, Jeff's league uses a format that takes the duration of a player's actual NFL career into account:
I am the commish of a keeper league. My buddy and I decided to start up a keeper league, and we wanted a way to keep more than three or four guys. Our answer was that we would keep players in brackets based on their years in the NFL. We now keep 3 players that have played 1 season or that have played 13 or more seasons, 2 players that have played 2 seasons, 3 players that have played 3 to 12 seasons, 1 kicker, and 1 defense. We went with a 10-team league and each roster has 26 players on it, with the thought that we will have players on our team that we do not expect much from for a year or two.
Yet another approach comes from Bram, who "tried to configure a keeper league that doesn't have complicated salary base's but still has to be managed as if it did":
We use a 28-man roster. Each week, we start 1 QB, 2 RB's, 2 WR's, 1 TE, 2 DB's, 1 LB, 1 DL, 1 KR and 1 K. 12 total. Our scoring system averages about 60 % offensive scoring and 40% special teams and defensive. This was in line with NFL averages a few years ago.

We allow teams to keep a starter at every starting spot. 12 players as listed above. We also allow 1 franchise player that costs the owner their first round pick in the following year's draft. We allow 1 rookie roster spot that doesn't cost any draft picks the following year. This encourages player development, and we are considering allowing a second rookie keeper without penalty.

If a team doesn't keep a full starting lineup we have a pre-draft free agency signing period that allows owners to draft veteran players to fill any starting roster positions that were left vacant. This happens just before the draft. Rookies have to come in through the regular draft.

Essentially all the teams have the same money because they can keep any players they want to keep as long as a starting roster spot is open. Managing rookies and Franchise players really help with the effect.
You getting all this Randy? The proper roster size for a keeper league is 17. Or 22. Or 40. Or 27. And you should be able to keep 3 players. Or 1 for 10 years. Or 3 players in their 6th year. And you should have to give up a pick. Or some auction money. Or something. But rookies don't count. Or at least your first rookie doesn't count. Or maybe your first two rookies don't count.

I'm kidding, of course. I think all of these ideas are great individually. But lumped into a single column such as this, they are starting to make my head spin. So I better wrap this up before my eyes get stuck this way . . .

Ah, here's a response from Casey that speaks to roster size generally and doesn't turn my brain to mush:
The formula that is most fair is 2 times your starting lineup minus one or two players. That way you are at least forced to make some tough calls. Anything more and you wont see many trades, pickups, or interest from teams that start slow.
Casey goes on to reiterate Randy's question (which I'm not sure I've done much to answer one way or another):
I have tried to convert our league to a keeper for a couple of years, but the very question of how many players to keep prevents the transition from happening. People who won last year want as many as they can get, and the bottom feeders want only 1 or 2. Since we are a league that uses an auction, I thought we should allow as many keepers as you want if you can afford to take a cap hit equivalent to where the player finished in respect to the highest salary at that position.

One of our GMs suggested keeping as many as you want at 1.5 times what you paid for him last year. Interesting, but the obvious problem is what to do with waiver pickups?
It sounds like Casey is on his way to answering his own question, but he might find this suggestion from Dave's league helpful:
In my 12-team, auction keeper league, we have 16-man rosters (8 starters, 8 reserves) plus an IR. There's a $100 salary cap that's only in effect for the draft. Each year that you keep a player, their salary increases $5. This negates the need for a strict limit on the number of keepers. We just let the market determine how many players an owner can afford to keep. Typically about 25-30 players are held over from year to year. Some teams will keep 3 or 4, others keep even fewer or occasionally none.

I'm in another league that's basically the same thing except the salary increase is much more severe. That league has a $50 salary cap, but the salary increase is still $5. That makes it much harder to keep players. So by adjusting the salary penalty, a league can pretty much control how many players can be kept.

We've actually thought about adjusting the salary increase by position. As it is now, no kickers or defenses are ever carried over and TEs have to reach super stardom before they're worth the extra cost. I haven't come up with an equitable solution yet, but we'll probably do something like that down the road.
Increasing the cost of players works in auction leagues, but since redrafter leagues are still more common, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the very popular method of having keepers increase in what we can think of as "draft-round value" from one year to the next. A lot of folks wrote in about this method, but the response from Mark explains it in the greatest detail:
Several years ago I was trying to come up with an idea for rewarding drafting an up-and-coming player. Our draft goes 19 rounds, and any player taken in the 12th through 19th rounds can be retained the following year at a cost of the draft slot that is 2 rounds higher than the round in which that player was originally drafted. You can not cut or trade that player during the year in order to retain for the next year, and you can only retain a player for 2 more years after you initially draft him. He moves up 2 draft spots each year, but you can't retain once his draft position is less than 12. For example, this year Ricky Williams was drafted in the 12th round. If he isn't cut or traded, he can be that owner's 10th round pick next year, but the year after that that he goes into the regular draft. This makes the draft exciting once you hit the 12th round and with a serpentine draft the player with the last draft pick in the 1st round gets the 1st draft pick in the 12th round. You can only retain 3 players and have to announce the retained players before the draft order is selected for the year.

Players like Priest Holmes, Deuce McAllister, Shawn Alexander, Kurt Warner, Mark Bulger, Santana Moss, Javon Walker, Andre Johnson have been drafted in the later rounds in past years before they hit stardom. Our system offers a big reward for taking a shot at a player and having to keep him on your roster for a year without him playing.
Although most of those who wrote in advocated keeping only a fraction of their fantasy teams from one season to the next, Dan wrote in to suggest that, as a general rule, it's a good idea for teams to keep roughly half of their rosters from one year to the next, though I suspect this is only true for leagues that have gone through a lengthy maturation process:
The roster size we've decided on this year is 35, starting 22 players each week (11 on O and 11 on D). This gives pretty much each crucial position a back up. For future prospects and deep sleepers we also have included a Taxi squad consisting of 5 players.

As for the number of keepers to keep every season, it all depends, of course, on your roster size, but as a general rule - think half. We keep 18 players out of our 35. This still gives the coming draft enough players to keep it interesting for about ten rounds.
So what's the right answer? I have no idea. All I can say is, "You pays your money and you takes your choice." Have fun choosing.

This Week's Question
A reader named Bradley wrote in earlier this season to ask about the fairest way to handle trades in a league. Most leagues handle trades in one of two ways. The first is to have commissioners approve or veto trades (usually with a league being able to override a commissioner's decision provided enough owners disagree with him). The second is to have the owners themselves vote to approve or block proposed trades. Bradley's league uses the second method, but it appears to be causing a problem:
Regarding trades, our 10-team league uses a voting approval process where accepted trades are subject to a 1-day voting period. Votes may be cast by the other eight members not involved, where at most 3 objections are allowed. Trades receiving 4 or more (50% or more of voters) objections are rejected. We have had several trades rejected this year, and this has made the traders mad. I would love to hear your readers' thoughts.
I'm not sure how many people would agree with me, but I think that generally the only reason to block a trade is because the parties involve are suspected of colluding in order to stack one team at the expense of another. It's not right for me to vote against a trade just because I think that it makes my opponent's team better the week before I have to face him. However, it seems that the system employed by Bradley's league could easily lead to just this sort of scenario. What motivates owners to trade in the first place? Obviously, their incentive to trade is to make their teams better. In a good trade, there isn't really a winner or a loser; both parties benefit. If I have depth at running back and you have depth at receiver, we can make a trade that genuinely improves both our teams. The trade therefore helps both of us, but it might be intimidating to the owners who were looking forward to playing us before I acquired a decent receiver from you or you acquired a decent running back from me. They vote to block the trade just because we would both be easier to defeat if the trade weren't allowed to go through. So what is a league to do in a situation such as this? Like Bradley, I am interested to hear the thoughts of other readers.

Last Man Standing Picks (Courtesy of Matt)

Trap Game(s): Chicago at NY Giants:
Okay, so the trap games I've picked this season haven't really turned out to be trap games. What's important is that these games could have been. That being said, which game, or games, are potential trouble this week? In looking at the schedule, the Jets at Buffalo might be, or San Francisco at Seattle. But the game that stands out for me and the betting community is the Chicago Bears at the New York Football Giants.

The Giants just demolished Minnesota ,and while they might not be looking ahead to their next quality opponent, the team may not completely listen to Coach Coughlin about the possible letdown. This team will be at home and think that the Bears are not that good. What they need to remember is that any team can be beaten on any given Sunday.

#3: Indianapolis over Minnesota (4-3 This Season):
As we get further into the season, it becomes very important that you make picks not only for this week but also strategic picks for later in the season. This is one of the weeks that you can take advantage of not choosing a good team like the Colts earlier in the season. Minnesota is banged up at receiver and while Kelly Campbell is fast and Nate Burleson is solid, neither is Randy Moss. If the Colts can make the Vikings one-dimensional, this game should be over as early as last week's game. However, Tony Dungy's defense that was so productive last year is now rated almost dead last, giving up 45 points last week to the rejuvenated Chiefs (see below). If the Vikings stay close and can run a balanced offense. Look for Indy to lose 3 in a row.

#2: San Diego over New Orleans (5-2 This Season):
Everyone will be jumping on the bandwagon of the Chargers after last week. LaDainian Tomlinson should have a good day against a Saint defense that has been anything but good. On the other side of the ball, while San Diego is not a defensive juggernaut, they proved that they should be more than enough to shut down Aaron Brooks and company. According to tapes watched by the Saints coaching staff, Deuce McAllister is not as explosive as he was the last two seasons. Combine that with a receiving corps that is only adequate and that becomes the formula for a loss. If the Chargers get up early at home, look for them to sit their starters in the fourth quarter.

#1: Kansas City over Tampa Bay (6-1 This Season):
Talk about a change in fortunes. Kansas City is just piling up the points against teams, and while the Bucs are known for defense, they will be hard pressed to stop the tandem of Holmes, Gonzalez and Green. This game will be close. With Griese throwing to Clayton all day and Pittman mixing it up, but this may be the week to pick the Chiefs if you have been avoiding them lately.
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.